Did Humans Evolve To Run On Pavement?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

One of the major barriers to the uptake of barefoot running is the perception that humans weren’t meant to run on flat, hard surfaces, such as paved streets. I’ve been asked this question countless times, and though I know it not to be true from personal experience, it’s often hard to convince people otherwise.

I spent a bit of time this weekend researching the subject, and discovered, that like all thing barefoot, there is precious little research on the matter. I did, however unearth a small study from 2000[1] that examined this question for shod heel-to-toe runners.

What it found was that there was no significant increase in the forces applied to the body due to the change in terrain. Interestingly, however, it also found that on harder surfaces, such as asphalt, that there is a reduction in loading rate.

Basically what this means is that as the surface becomes harder, the body adapts its form to compensate for it, allowing the knees to absorb the shock a little bit more gradually.

What I fiind fascinating about this is not only that the body can, and does, adapt to its surroundings, but that it also still manages to do this in shoes. The loading rate reduction is very reminiscent of Daniel Lieberban’s study[2] from 2010 that found a similar reflex in barefoot runners.

Of course these studies are very small and I would LOVE to see some proper, large-scale studies into some of the more common barefoot running questions, but at this point, all signs seem to be pointing towards us being evolved running machines that are well and truly able to adapt to all kinds of terrain (barefoot or otherwise).

References

1. Dixon SJ, Collop AC, Batt ME, (2000) Surface effects on ground reaction forces and lower extremity kinematics in running. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Exeter, United Kingdom http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11079523

2. Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO, Pitsiladis Y. (2010) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463: 531-5. http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/Nature2010_FootStrikePatternsandCollisionForces.pdf

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